Monday, March 31, 2008

Shooting Star and Spiderweb

Though Robert Bloch made his reputation with horror or horrorific stories and novels, he worked steadily throughout his career in the mystery and crime genres. Shooting Star, one half of the new Hardcase Crime double book (more of these please), is not only crimonious it's also set in Hollywood, one of Bloch's abiding fascinations.

The hook here is novel for those of us who can remember how actor William Boyd bought up all his Hopalong Cassiday movies when they fell from popularity in th Forties and later sold them to TV. Buy low sell high. They brought him millions. Failed literary agent Mark Clayburn, now paying the bills as a private eye, is hired to prove that a Boyd-like actor wasn't the decadent man the press revealed him to be following his murder. The man who hires Clayburn bought up the dead star's Hoppy-like movies and expected to make a fortune. But since the films are aimed at kids...who wants to see a hero whose tastes off-screen were, to be gentle about it, sleazy.

In Spiderweb failed actor Eddie Haines is hired to be a "psychiatric consultant" to the stars by a rather arch villain named Professor Hermann. By blackmailing Eddie, Hermann has found the perfect tool for his racket. There are moments that reminded me of Nightmare Alley throughout the book and more than a few scenes that move the novel into the kind of realistic horror of Psycho. Shooting Star is driven by its mystery storyline; Spiderweb, though the storyline is less focused, depends on shock material to keep you turning the pages.

Neither of these novels is major Bloch but both deserve reading. For one thing they encapsulate a good deal of the obsessions, sociologically, of the Fifties. For another we see the dark side of Bloch's obsession with Hollywood. In such masterpieces as his short story The Movie People we see his almost innocent sense of what the movies gave to him as a youth. When he speaks of Chaplin and Keaton and Lloyd it's as if he's speaking of secular saints. The movies of his boyhood are holy to him.

In these novels and many short stories he deals with the business side of Hollywood. The voice becomes by turns sardonic and angry as he witnesses the passion and beauty of the great films and film artists reduced to power plays and dishonest deals rendered by men who have no idea what they're defiling.

I enjoyed both of these books enormously.

No comments: